The Guide to Lodging in Italian Monasteries by Eileen Barish
by Eileen Barish
Reviewed by Catherine Fournier
By a happy coincidence, the book arrived on my desk shortly after my mother gave me enough travel points for two round trip tickets to Europe. I have wanted to visit Rome since my conversion, I've wanted to visit Pompeii since I first read National Geographic and I've wanted to visit Tuscany since my palate matured past peanut butter and I discovered fresh basil. But dreaming and planning are very different things when you're an average income family with a larger than average number of children. The travel points brought the dream to life, this book put it within reach.
The premise is simple. To cover rising costs, declining populations and changing needs, Italy's monasteries and convents offer accommodation to tourists, students and retreat groups. The guide to Lodging in Italy's Monasteries lists over 400 of Italy's monasteries and convents that welcome guests. Each entry begins with the monastery's history, describes its religious relics and rare art as well as the attractions of the surrounding area. It then goes on to list the type of accommodation (single, double room, private bath, shared bath), the amenities available to guests (meals, kitchen facilities, linens and towels provided) and the cost per person per night. Restrictions (curfews or refusing shared rooms to unmarried men and women), clear directions by road and public transportation and contact information (person, address, telephone and fax numbers) follow. A sample reservation letter in both English and Italian and translations of several relevant terms are provided (months of the year, numbers of people) - a very useful feature.
Most remarkable is the low cost of these accommodations and meals. It appears to be extremely inexpensive to spend the night in a monastery. Rates range from a voluntary contribution to about $30 per person per night, often including breakfast. This contrasts sharply with an low average cost of $100 per night in a hotel. Old and new, in cities, in the countryside and on islands, these monasteries offer a way for the adventurous traveller to get a unique glimpse into the history and personality of Italy.
It makes fascinating and entertaining reading, a unique armchair trip to Italy. For example: "Convento di Santa Maria dell'Arco - Built in 1492, the convent's history is tied to the miraculous image of the Madonna dell'Arco. Tradition holds that a woman came to the church on Easter Monday with a little pig meant as an offering to Mary. The pig ran away and the woman began to swear at the image, took it off the wall and crushed it under her feet. The next year on the same day, the feet of the woman simply fell off her legs. From that day forward, several other miracles also took place."
The guide is organized alphabetically, first by region and then within each region by town. A cover page to each regional section locates the region within a small map of Italy. This organization is somewhat confusing, you need a good knowledge of the regions of Italy to use the book effectively. A North to South organization or a larger map at the beginning of the book would have helped while I learned that Umbria was north of Latium and south of Tuscany.
I expect to use the book frequently while making our final travel plans, and to carry it with us on our trip as a reference and guide.
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